Betrayal destroys the fabric of the relationships that keep our organizations operating. Betrayals occur on a continuum from major to minor., and may be intentional or unintentional. Major betrayals diminish the essential trust that exists while minor betrayals eat away at it bit by bit. They are driven by people not keeping their agreements or misleading co-workers to further their own ends. Betrayal is systemic in natureit’s a virus that invades the whole organization. But it’s the minor betrayals that are more insidious in nature.
Although most betrayals are minor, they can be just as dramatically draining on an organization, explains Dennis Reina and Michelle Reina, authors of the new book, Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization. Minor Betrayals are acts that alienate employees from their managers, their peers and their subordinates. These subtle betrayals seem harmless and insignificant, yet can lead to more serious hurts and account for much of the pain and resignation that employees feel toward their bosses, each other and their companies.
Everyday examples of minor betrayals include not keeping one’s word, talking behind one’s back, or not sharing pertinent information needed to do one’s job. And to make matters worse, minor betrayals can escalate to major betrayals if not addressed and resolved. This occurs when minor betrayals stay alive in people’s minds. Over the course of time, they become bigger than the actual event.
In our work, we see people at all levels feeling betrayed, adds co-author Dennis Reina. ‘We see leaders feeling betrayed by the inconsistencies of the systems they work in. We see people feeling betrayed as a result of the way decisions have been made or the way changes are implemented. Often betrayal is not a result of what happened, but rather how it happened.
Leaders are, intentionally or unintentionally, through relatively minor incidences, perceived as responsible for betraying employees everyday. These betrayals have enormous consequences. If, for example, leaders give employees responsibility, but not the authority, trust and support to do a project, they have destroyed that person’s ability to fully contribute to the companyand in the process has destroyed trust as well.
While minor betrayals erode everyday confidence and productivity, their ramifications can cause greater problems when the organization and its employees face a major betrayal. Leaders may honestly believe the major decisions to downsize, to merge, to cancel a product-line, to restructure a department or to by-pass someone for promotion was absolutely in the best interest of the long-term health of an organization. However, the authors warn, they cannot and must not ignore the impact of those decisions, and particularly the impact of how those decisions were carried out. The real betrayal occurs when decisions impacting peoples’ lives are carried out without an element of awareness and sensitivity to their impact.
Clearly, when any of these decisions are made, employees are affected. Sometimes it’s as simple as making staff changes, but there are underlying dynamics that affect employees’ trust levels. Whether the betrayal is intentional or not, it is still shocking and devastating. It grabs them when they least expect it. What they thought was dependable is not dependable; what they thought was permanent is not permanent.
To move employees out of betrayal and into trust, it is important that leaders understand the nature of betrayal and the steps they can take. Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace offers these seven steps to help organizations heal from betrayal:
- Observe and acknowledge what’s so.
Effective leaders acknowledge the negative impact change has on their employeestheir morale and their productivity. They notice what their people are experiencing and acknowledge it. They find out what is important to them. They listen to what they’re saying at the water cooler, down in the break rooms, out on the shop floor.
- Allow employees to surface their feelings.
Give employees permission to externalize their feelings in a constructive manner. Create safe forums facilitated by skilled personnel that support the expression of fear, anger and frustrations regarding the negativity they are holding, and freeing up that energy for rebuilding relationships and returning their focus to performance.
- Give employees supportsupport the change process.
Recognize employees’ transitional needs. When leaders expect people to embrace change without these fundamental needs being met, people feel betrayed. It is important to emphasize to employees the value of new relationship building, internally and externally.
- Reframe the experience by putting it into a larger context.
Help employees work through their emotions as it makes it possible for them to begin to put the betrayal behind them. Experiencing betrayal leaves employees feeling very vulnerable. They will need help seeing that they have choices regarding how they react to their circumstances. The more people are aware that they choose their actions, the more they are able to take responsibility for those actions.
- Leaders should take responsibility for their role in the process.
It is not helpful to try to cover up mistakes. Telling the truth is the fundamental basis for trust in the workplace. It demonstrates one’s trustworthiness. It is the leader’s role to break the chain of betrayal and reverse the spiral of distrust. But rebuilding trust does not mean giving back that which was taken away. It means returning something in better shape than it was originally.
Persistent resentment and blame in an organization is toxic to the individuals involved and to the whole system. It undermines trust, morale and negatively impacts productivity, creativity and innovation. It is essential that leaders help people shift from a blaming mode to problem-solving. Having some understanding of the circumstances surrounding the betrayal helps make forgiveness easier. Forgiveness is about freeing ourselves and others from the burdens of the past.
- Let go and move on.
Acceptance is not condoning what was done, but experiencing the reality of what happened without denying, disowning or resenting it. It is facing the truth without the blame. By listening, telling the truth, and keeping promises and backing employees, leaders will play an instrumental role in assisting employees and organizations to heal from betrayal and rebuild trust.
It’s clear that there is a high cost to betrayal in the workplace. It rocks people’s confidence, it inhibits creativity, information sharing and communication, and decreases risk-takingall of which impact productivity and the bottom line. Betrayal happens everyday. It happens with major events; it happens with minor oversights. When companies undergo change; when you speak of a co-worker behind his back; when hours are long and pay is short, trust flounders and feelings of betrayal are likely. It is done intentionally and it is done unintentionally. Leaders betray employees; employees betray them. Leaders even betray themselves. Betrayal destroys trust between individuals, among teams and across organizations. Knowing how to identify and manage betrayal, and rebuild an environment of trust, is essential.
Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace clearly explains through in depth, practical guidelines, the dynamics of trust and helps organization members develop the common language needed to discuss trust-related issues; to identify behaviors that build trust and behaviors that break trust; and to take action on trust-related issues. It provides suggestions, behaviors, and excercises that can be put to use immediately to start building effective work relationships, productive work environments, and healthy bottom lines.